Actively Forgetting

During the acting intensive, there were three actors presenting monologues followed by coaching. All three demonstrated by pure serendipity, an important lesson in theatre performance.

At any "Talk back Sunday" for theatre, there's a common eye-roll joke about the question asked every. Single. Time.

"How do you remember all those lines?"

It's a damaging question, because it makes it seem like Acting is just good memory work. The lesson here, is that an Actor's job isn't to remember, an Actor's job is to actively forget. One has to actively forget that they know every word, every circumstance, and every move of blocking so that audiences are always watching a sincere person in a present moment - ripe for discovery.

The instructor we have stresses a huge emphasis on Michael Shurtleff's 13 guideposts (augmented to 15 by the instructor, and still more than I learned when I was in school and it was only 12!) - For those who aren't familiar, they are a series of question you apply to your scene to better involve yourself with the given circumstances. It helps you remain present; it's a comprehensive understanding of your character and their world.

All the performers were brave; all the performers did well, and all the performers offered something of a different quality from beginning to end. This isn't a critique of performance, it's an effort to identify an interesting common denominator.

Monologue one presented. She was rehearsed and memorized, which made her application of notes difficult. Every time she was asked to add something to her performance, the quality she was asked to add would poke its head out of the water before being drowned by what was familiar and prepared; what was brought in and conceptualized. It's common - Actor's develop preconceptions.

Monologue two was bombastic and had good sense. He came out the gate very physical. In the same way the first presenter was anchored by how they wanted to say the lines, this performer was anchored by physical gestures he wanted to carry out. He had accidentally choreographed his monologue like a dance, with prescriptive mime movements. He applied notes very well, and without fear, but was always tripped up by his sense memory to carry out predetermined blocking.

Monologue three was full of unearned pregnant pauses that made the listener wonder if the lines weren't fully memorized. By the end, it was apparent the person was taking their time in an effort to work their way up to tear soaked eyes; they were emoting. The instructor asked her about the scene, "You gotta be able to say it, if you wanna play it" and all - and she had pigeon-holed the scene, calling it "an emotional scene".

The instructor had only one hour prior, told us that categorizing a scene makes it general, and you stop communicating sense and intention. The girl preconceived that the monologue was emotional and necessitated tears, so that's all there was and that's what you saw her working toward despite any words said.

So there are three performers, all with preconceptions that they can't
actively forget. And the instructor managed to get them out of their bodies - it was super impressive.

Monologue 1 - He had the girl perform while doing jumping jacks. This is the most basic, crude way to do it, but it gets the person to drop all preconceived and planned bullshit and makes them confront the text and let it work on them.

Monologue 2 - The presenter confident and huge with his body (even anchored to his own blocking/choreography), so the instructor made him focus on varying his vocal quality, and to remember his connectivity therein (thought, breath, voice, movement).

Monologue 3 - He reminded the presenter of the tools, the guideposts, which include "Conflict - what are you fighting for?" Making it specific, rather than general and "emotional".

The instructor was like the Wizard of Oz, giving everyone one single dose of what they needed, and nothing more. It worked well enough when used, but you could
even still see the strong seduction to do what's rehearsed and familiar.

All in all, it was a great first day (with another tomorrow). My observation is that I have to actively forget with both my character's brain, and the actor's brain. The character has to discover all thoughts, lines, and actions; and the actor has to trust the work, and the text, and forget all preconception; prescription, and prechoreographed material.

Day two promises another round of brave performers, I look forward to the take-away!
blog comments powered by Disqus
© 2018 ∆ndrew ∆nthony Email Me